May 31 2019

Pentagon repeats objection to joint S-400 working group with Turkey

(Update in fourth to ninth paragraph with quotes from NSC official and Pentagon)

The White House and Pentagon have not confirmed an agreement on a joint study group to be established between Turkey and United States on the Russian S-400 missile defence system, and a National Security Council spokesperson told Ahval there was "nothing new to announce" on Friday.

The U.S. officials statements came after Bloomberg reported on Friday that U.S. President Donald Trump has accepted Turkey's offer to form a joint technical study group on S-400 system, which Ankara plans to purchase despite Washington's objections.

The Turkish Presidency on Wednesday said President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Trump had discussed Ankara's proposal to create a joint working group on its planned purchase of the S-400s during a phone call this week. The group will reportedly examine any risks the missile system could pose to the fifth-generation U.S. fighter jet F-35.

"We have been clear that obtaining the S-400 would create an unacceptable risk to U.S. technology, our pilots, and our aircraft," NSC Spokesperson Garrett Marquis told Ahval. 

"The United States has sent technical teams to Turkey more than once and hosted counterparts here to discuss the threat posed by the S-400. We continue robust discussions with our Turkish counterparts at all levels," he said.

Eric Pahon, Pentagon Spokesman echoed the White House statement and added;

 "We continue robust discussions with our Turkish counterparts at all levels regarding the future of our mil-mil relationship, however we have been clear that purchasing the S-400 would create an unacceptable risk because its radar system could provide the Russian military sensitive information on the F-35. Those concerns cannot be mitigated. The S-400 is a system Russia built to try to shoot down aircraft like the F-35, and it is inconceivable to imagine Russia not taking advantage of the collection opportunity. The United States has sent technical teams to Turkey more than once and hosted counterparts here to discuss the threat posed by the S-400, our mutual participation in the F-35 program, and the U.S. Patriot offer."

Spokesperson Pahon, in another email to Ahval, said this, 

We communicate with the Turkish government at all levels and intend to continue our strong military to military relationships.  We continue to speak frequently with our Turkish counterparts on a variety of issues of mutual security concern, and intend to continue those discussions.  We have been clear, however, that our concerns relating to the co-location of the F-35 and S-400 cannot be mitigated. 

Bloomberg's report stated that Washington had agreed on the joint study group to prove the S-400s' incompatibility with NATO weapons.

"Trump was in agreement, though the American view is that the findings will likely support the U.S. argument that deploying the Russian systems would put the F-35s at risk," said Bloomberg, referring to a statement by a U.S. official familiar with the situation. 

Ankara and Washington have squabbled for months over the Turkish plan to buy the S-400s, which the United States says is incompatible with the Western alliance’s defence network and poses a threat to the F-35s that Turkey also plans to buy.

Washington is firmly opposed to Turkey’s planned purchase of the system, due for delivery in July, and has been threatening sanctions on Turkey and a freeze on the delivery of the F-35 stealth jets. 

The joint study group agreement indicates a recovery in the relations between Ankara and Washington, but the two NATO allies are still not in agreement on the issue, according to Bloomberg. 

"While Turkey maintains that there is no going back on the S-400 purchase, Americans see any joint study as a means to explain to Turkey why the Russian and U.S.-made advanced weaponry are incompatible and that Turkey will need to choose one over the other," Bloomberg said.